Friday, 3 February 2012

When Puritanism Met Burlesque

By Josh Williams.

Before I start this piece, which will see me attempt to de-mystify my prejudices and misconceptions about the Neo-Burlesque movement, I feel that a disclaimer is in order:

My great-grandfather, Edgar, was a Methodist pastor who spent his life travelling around Britain spreading the good, albeit slightly dull, doctrine of Puritanism. According to childlike reasoning, this makes my grandfather half-Puritan; my father a quarter-Puritan; and I, the youngest Williams boy, an eighth-Puritan. With the notable exception of a wardrobe made up in near entirety of dark greys and blues, however, I have always believed that there really is very little about me to suggest an avoidance of gaudiness or a tendency towards asceticism.

And yet, if there is one thing that might just draw a repressed Puritan out of his shell, it would surely be the quite remarkable revival of Burlesque that has occurred in the UK over the past few years. To us closet Puritans, it signals the apex of the shocking reversal of our nation's fortunes, first put into motion when the Cromwells were tragically ejected from power in 1660, and Charles II was allowed to re-introduce the heathen fun-fest that is Christmas.

Today we Puritans are lone voices, however, and Neo-Burlesque has become an established figure on the capital's scene. Numerous venues have devoted themselves to faux-20sism, and in many cases to great acclaim. Clubs like Volupté in Holborn, Madame Jojo’s in Soho and Cellar Door in Aldwych, for instance, have given themselves over, wholeheartedly, to the forbidden fruits of lingerie and nipple-tassels. The crowds, it is fair to say, have come a' flockin'.

Behind the curve, as ever, I thus realised last week that the time had finally come for me to put my Methodist misgivings to rest once and for all, and to investigate. With a curious union of foreboding and a deeply sinful sense of excitement, I visited the aptly named 'Sinner Saints' at the much-hyped Brickhouse bar-restaurant-club on Brick Lane.

I prepared for the event carefully. The greatest danger of Burlesque is presumably that one must not look like one enjoys it too much, and thus I brought a female friend. Ostensibly, we went together as we had not seen each other in months, but in reality, as we both knew, it was so I wouldn't look like a pervert; “This man can definitely relate to women,” I hoped her presence would declare, “even when they aren’t fully clothed.”

On arriving at The Brickhouse, it seemed like the majority of punters had followed suit. The crowd were a friendly mix of male and female, young and old, perverts and non-perverts alike. It was notable, in this regard, that throughout the evening I saw only one man sitting alone; and if he had managed to slip his willy through his flies (as I presumed was his plan), neither I nor anyone else noticed.

The show itself continued to dispense of my misconceptions. It was, I must say, quite brilliant; at once bizarre, enthralling, and, to my great surprise, knowingly and genuinely comic. On an artistic level (he says, desperately avoiding being grouped with 'lone man at table'), the dancing is enormously impressive; but in reality it is the over-riding sense of fun and mischief that really makes the night. Moments of be-tassled breast, I must admit, did indeed force me into that contorted embarrassment so familiar to all Puritans when faced with a gyrating female form, but this never proved a significant problem.

The Brickhouse, after all, offers plenty of distraction for these moments. The food and drink, for instance, are really very good indeed. Although the starters and mains struck me as a little over-egged (and priced) for what they were, I must say that my very impressive steak fought a valiant and sustained fight with the show for my attention.

The Brickhouse, venue itself, meanwhile, is achingly cool, complete with slick bars, mezzanine levels, and a big, arty smoking area out back. Although its position on Brick Lane means that a certain amount of this is to be expected, and scorned, this venue really does stand out in a part of London where 'cool bars' have become pretty ubiquitous.

My final comment, therefore, is an impassioned directive. This Neo-Burlesque thing is showing no sign of abating, and so it really is high time to cast-off the chains of our inhibition, and face-up to some socially acceptable lady-gyration. Right now, with the Sinner Saints not here for much longer, I can recommend nowhere more highly than The Brickhouse. It was here, after all, that I faced my fears; and although this Puritan may never watch Burlesque again, oh boy is he glad that, just for one night, he did.

The Brickhouse has some fantastic offers in place throughout the year, many of which you can find by following this link. Alternatively, I’ve highlighted the mid-week, 4-courses and cabaret burlesque offer for only £35 below which you can book using the handy widget provided.


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